Thoughts on the L.A. Philharmonic’s Mahler 8 telecast

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily


At the exact time that the Los Angeles Philharmonic was
telecasting its performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 into movie theaters
across the U.S., Canada and South America, I was singing in a memorial service
for Robert Prichard, an old friend and former organist/music director at
Pasadena Presbyterian Church.


However, for the first times in the two years that the
orchestra has presented its “LA Phil LIVE” series, it offered an “encore”
performance last night. One thing we learned is that Mahler — and Gustavo
Dudamel — sells. The Alhambra Renaissance Stadium 14, where I always attend
these telecasts, was about full — a larger crowd than for any of the other
LAPO telecasts I’ve attended there — and I’m told that the Feb. 18 telecast was
completely full.


Following are some random thoughts from last night’s

Prior to the 7 p.m. start time, there was a series of
interesting questions/answers: among other things we learned: there were 12
nationalities represented on stage; the Phil flew 3,613 miles from L.A. to
Caracas; “El Sistema,” the Venezuelan music system that nurtured Dudamel now
has 31 orchestras and 125 youth orchestras, serving about 250,000 children and

The 1,200 or so choristers had to stand for more nearly 2
hours from the time they got on stage until the final salvos of applause.

The choir looked like it was all young people. The
so-called “children’s choir” (the youngest, treble voices) sang their parts
from memory (I believe that was the case in Los Angeles, as well).

The preconcert introductory part, hosted by a gushing John
Lithgow, ran 40 minutes, and was mostly interesting. As is always the case in
these telecasts, the rehearsal footage with Dudamel rehearsing the LAPO and
Simn Bolivr Symphony Orchestra together in Walt Disney Concert Hall was
fascinating, with Dudamel alternating between English and Spanish as he talked
to the combined ensembles.

Including a 19-minute intermission before the actual
performance, the entire evening ran 2:45.

Dudamel called Symphony No. 8’s second movement “Wagnerian

In response to a question about “El Sistema,” we learned
that although the cream rises to the top in the orchestra hierarchy, no one
“flushes out” of the system — if you want to keep playing, you can do so.
Lithgow didn’t follow up to find out exactly how this works.

The mob scene of singers and instrumentalists was so huge
(the wide-angle shots were jaw-dropping) that Dudamel had to mount several
steps to reach the podium floor. As was the case at the Shrine performance, he
conducted the piece with a score.

The sound in the theatre got better as the performance
went along. It still doesn’t equal a live performance but, as at the Shrine,
the climactic sections of both parts made a mighty noise! Recording technology
certainly made the soloists sound better than at the Shrine Auditorium
performance and we heard many details that didn’t emerge clearly at the Shrine.

Dudamel seemed more relaxed in the Caracas performance,
emphasizing grandeur whenever possible. At the end, he also seemed more
exhilarated; in L.A. he was absolutely spent.

Even for me, that’s enough Mahler for a while!

The final “LA PHIL” telecast is March 18 at 2 p.m. (PDT)
as Dudamel conducts the Phil in the all-Gershwin program that was the
2011-2012’s opening gala last October. A truncated version of this program was
telecast on PBS but that left out quite a bit from the actual concert. Herbie
Hancock will be the soloist in Rhapsody
in Blue.



(c) Copyright 2012, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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